Feature

A Good Daughter

To

By Anonymous

Before boarding the plane last summer to travel from Colorado to , I felt pretty confident of my identity: a 25-year-old working for two years (perhaps long-term) with Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA) as an English teacher and Kingdom worker. I expected having to make many adjustments to a new country and culture, but I didn’t expect to begin a journey of “finding myself” upon landing.

Although the start of this journey was exciting and fun (like any typical “honeymoon” stage of cross-cultural adjustment), before He could show me who I really was, God had to strip me of all I had defined myself by—comfortable relationships, the role of “teacher,” my familiar culture and my heart language.

Even before moving overseas, I knew the importance of learning the heart language of listeners in order to most effectively communicate His love. There is nothing, however, that could’ve prepared me for this journey! Two days after my arrival, I began language study for three hours every day with a handful of other new people. Five days after that, I packed up half of my belongings (one of my two 50-pound duffel bags) and moved into a local family’s home.

At that time, I knew how to say “Hello,” “My name is . What’s yours?”, “It’s nice to meet you,” “Thank you,” “Yes,” “No” and “I don’t understand” in their language. There were silent moments, lots of acting/miming and plenty of nods, smiles and laughs. It was fun to figure out how to communicate. Yet I understood clearly that I was at the base of a massive mountain, and I had taken just one step, with an incalculable number to follow. Then it hit me—there is no top to this mountain. Language learning never stops. For one who grew up in the microwave, “instant everything” generation, that realization was overwhelming!

I can’t guess how many hours I have spent sitting through meals of sticky rice and fish, Sunday morning services at local fellowships and many get-togethers with national CAMA coworkers—with zero understanding of what was being communicated. It’s been exhausting to hear language without any meaning attached. Some days I wondered if I’d ever understand. Was it truly worth it to learn a new alphabet and words for colors, numbers, fruits and household items? Would I ever really be able to communicate truth in a tonal language (where the word for “believe” could easily be confused with the word for “tiger” or “shirt” if the tone isn’t flat, falling or rising)?

Don’t get me wrong—I have honestly loved learning , and my language school has superb teachers and curriculum. Although I have much to be thankful for, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to be stripped of my ability to communicate. Somehow, my “adopted” family members and I made ourselves understood, proving that nonverbal cues really do account for a majority of the communication process. Yet I felt distant because I couldn’t ask them about themselves and get to know them. I often wondered if I’d ever have deep relationships with the people here, when for a long time, my question-asking ability didn’t go much further than inquiring about likes and dislikes.

“What is your name?” As an English-speaking American, that is one of the first questions out of my mouth. However, upon meeting new people in , I felt awkward asking this question because no one was asking it of me. My wise teammates said they’ve often known people for years without ever discovering their names! I was shocked. Yet I started paying attention to the questions people were asking.

“How old are you?” “What are you doing in ?” “How much money do you make?” “Where do you live?” “Who do you live with?” The answers to these kinds of questions provide a framework of social status that is obviously very important in order to continue conversation and relationships. When people here find out how old I am, they begin to refer to me as “older sister,” “younger sister” or “daughter” according to their age. A person’s name isn’t as important as a person’s place in society.

My language coach has taught me that good learners understand they must become accepted members of their host culture before their message has any chance of being accepted. This has meant finding myself—what it means to be “me”—in this society. I have a “mother,” who calls me “daughter,” and a “little sister,” who calls me “older sister.” I have a roommate whom others call my “older sister.” I have a house cleaner who refers to herself as my “aunt.” I am slowly figuring out my place in relationships.

One of the most humbling experiences has been learning what it means to be a “daughter.” While living with my host family, I offered many times as best as I could to help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and other chores. Each time, my mother clearly told me no. As a respectful house guest, I wanted to obey her and not get in the way by doing something in a strange, American way. About three weeks into my home-stay, her son, who speaks English quite well, came to visit. He informed me that I needed to help more around the house. I explained that I had tried, but “Mother” had said no. My “brother” told me that it was all a cultural misunderstanding—“no” didn’t mean “no” like it does in America.

Oh, man! I was trying to do things right, and I’d unintentionally blown it. I felt like a failure, inadequate to serve in appropriate ways. After all, I didn’t know how to make sticky rice or wash silk skirts.

The experience made me contemplate my relationship with God the Father. How am I doing as a daughter of the King? Similar to my experience with my mom, no matter how much I strive to please my Heavenly Father, I don’t always get it right and often blow it. He loves me despite my failures, and has chosen to invite me into what He’s doing in —despite my inadequacies.

The Father didn’t promise that following Him would be a pain free; He simply asked for obedience. The ironic reward in setting aside my culture and language has been finding my place. Contrary to modern messages from my home culture, the journey of finding myself has had absolutely nothing to do with looking inward. As I look upward, I realize that my identity has nothing to do with my location, my organization or my work—it has everything to do with my relationship with my Abba. As I’ve learned that my name is not so important here, I’m reminded that the only one of importance is truly the name “that is above every name.” May many in find their place in His family. What a lifelong privilege it is to learn who I am as His daughter and servant!

—author’s name withheld

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